The SanityPrompt

This blog represents some small and occasional efforts to add a note of sanity to discussions of politics and policy. This blog best viewed with Internet Explorer @ 1024x768

Monday, October 03, 2005

When Will These Guys Get a Clue?

Mark Schmitt has a great posting on an odd strategy (The Decembrist: Breach of Contract?) that has emerged from the DCCC in recent days -- arguing that Republicans have breached their 1994 Contract with America. This has to be one of the odder campaign tactics elicited in recent years (Schmitt lays out most of the reasons so read his piece) but it underscores how brain dead the Washington inner circle on the Left is these days. Is this the best we can do?

Schmitt points out that Dems are ignoring the obvious conclusion to be drawn from the latest Democracy Corps poll (also referenced by Dan Carol). Get a message - a positive message that articulates what you are going to do. Instead of harkening back to the Republican's message in 1994, get a message of your own. Tell the voters what Democrats will do in their first 100 days in office.

The elements of a powerful Democratic agenda are all there if the Democrats will only take their courage in hand and step into the breach (to mix a few metaphors all together in a blender). There are any number of issues on which Dems can cobble together some policies to communicate a coherent vision of the future and express their principles and their strength to do what is right. How about this for a start (with policy allies in parens and in no particular order)?

Nuclear Proliferation (NTI)

The New Yorker has a great short piece this week on the scandal of the Administration's failure to deal with the threat of nuclear terrorism and their inability to secure nuclear (or nucular if you will) materials. Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar head up the Nuclear Threat Initiative which argues at the current pace, we will secure all weapons grade plutonium by 2022. But with a concerted effort (and a little money of course) we can get this done in four years.

Governmental clean up (Campaign for America's Future)

David Sirota and the DLC love to bash their heads together on their differences but on so many issues Dems across the spectrum see things the same way. Ethics has to be a central part of a Democratic message and cleaning up the way business is done in Washington is a first step. Compare the DLC view (here) and the Sirota wing (here here and here).

Election Reform (Common Cause)

In addition to ethics reform in the policy process, Dems have to look at (and continue to stress) reform of election laws and campaign finance. We need to press for further reforms designed to take money out of the decision process in Washington. Anyone who has worked on the Hill will tell you that in 99% of the offices, no decision on a vote is made without first asking -- "how is this likely to affect our fundraising?" That this happens is a scandal. That Dems are silent on the issue is just plain foolish. The continued presences of long lines in poor urban precincts and paperless ballot trails also have to end. But Dems can also gain stature by standing against gerrymandering and playing with disctrict boundaries for partisan advantage. A comprehensive set of campaign reform laws communicates a commitment to democracy, fairness, and the rights of the little guy in the system. Common Cause (& here) has a set of ideas on this issue as do the Center for American Progress and the DLC.

Apollo Alliance

'Nuff said. This one should be a no-brainer for Dems. But you rarely hear it mentioned among the Democratic talking heads. Here we have a union of labor and environmentalists who are committed to finding ways that start here at home to promote energy independence, a cleaner environment, reduce the risks of global warming, and produce jobs and economic growth to boot. Seems like a winner right? So where are the Dems on this? As Dan Carol notes, why spend $100 billion over the next 15 years to put a man on the moon (again) when we could spend that money here at home to make our own planet a more hospitable place.

Repeal the Bush Tax cuts & Tax Reform (Citizens for Tax Justice)

The evidence that these policies have been a fiscal disaster while providing almost nothing in the way of economic growth is mammoth. Under Clinton the Democrats established their bone fides as fiscal prudents. They can recapture that by tapping the growing sentiment that these cuts have primarily benefitted the wealthy but stuck our children and grandchildren with a massive bill at the same time that they will be picking up the tab for our retirement. These haven't been tax cuts but tax deferments that shifted costs from the wealthy to the middle class and the poor. Common ground on the issue exists on both the right (and here) and the left of the Party and even fiscal conservatives among Republicans are unhappy with this legacy. Hand in hand with this has to be tax simplification. The IRS is eliminating over 60 taxpayer help centers because of budget cuts even as the tax code grows more immense and complex from year to year. Democrats have to commit to making the payment of taxes easier and less onerous. And the Republican privileging of capital and wealth over work in the tax code (cuts for capital gains and dividends and increases in payroll costs) has to be underscored.

Consumer Protection (Consumers Union)

A host of privacy and consumer protection issues have emerged in recent years. Not only have Republicans been silent -- they have often aided and abetted the corporate push for expanded power and control at the expense of citizens and taxpayers. Rather than fight for community internet, they have sided at the state level with cable company written bills that would prevent municipalities from setting up Wi-Fi networks. ID theft protection still awaits a serious consideration from policy makers and only at the state level has there been much in the way of legislative efforts. Consumers Union, the folks who put out Consumer's Report, have a host of ideas to help communities when nonprofit hospitals convert to for profit status, better product labeling (so consumers can navigate their way through food labels that don't tell you country of origin, provide you with everything you need to know about genetic engineering and other environmental tampering, and assure you of environmental quality), providing community internet, improved community communications and utility services, greater consumer privacy in the wake of further invasions through the internet and the sale of credit card information. In short - A CONSUMERS BILL OF RIGHTS.

Smart War on Terror (Center for American Progress)

"We are safer without Saddam." Do Americans still feel that way? Doubt it. Hendrick Hertzberg's discussion of NTI (above) has a great 100 word encapsulation that captures exactly why so many of us feel less safe four years after 9/11 because of the Bush presidency. What we need urgently is a smart war on terror. We need to get serious about capturing Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri -- that's going to take more men and more money. We need to win the war in Afghanistan and so far indications are that we are slowly losing it, allowing the Taliban to re-emerge and failing to secure large swaths of the country. Meanwhile, Afghani President Karzai rightly points out that much of what is going on in Pakistan is being ignored by the administration. We need to commit to prioritizing women's rights -- a move sure to help us widen the gender gap at home and one way to start is to look at the Global Fund for Women. We also need more citizen to citizen diplomacy along the lines of our Cold War efforts - think Peace Corps, Fullbright, etc... (Thanks Dan) And of course we need an exit strategy from Iraq. Not a deadline, bail out date, but a clear set of objectives and milestones we want to reach while also commiting the resources needed to get us there. If that means moving troops out of Germany, so be it. If that means some short term deficit spending, so be it (a case can be made that this bill will benefit future generations). There are a host of things we need to do right now -- from fixing communications networks so public safety personal can communicate across service boundaries (fire to police) and across geographic boundaries (county sheriffs to city cops); to improving port security and reasserting America's moral leadership in the world.

Health Care Reform

It's only the most urgent domestic issue facing the country today. Whenever the issue comes up in a presidential election (or any election for that matter) the Right puts forward their "reform" plan. So, one year after the last election -- where is George Bush's vaunted plan? Voters have to realize that anything put forward by Democrats would be one more thing on the issue that they have been willing to do than Republicans have. You could comprehensively reform the health care system in any of 4 or 5 different ways (also here). Pick a plan. Personally, my preference is for Kennedy's Medicare for All pitch as the simplest way to seriously communicate a commitment to national health care (a proposal increasingly popular among the desperate members of the middle class). But you could also pitch a more modest set of proposals as first steps.

Corporate Governance Reform

You want an ownership society? How about giving power back to the owners -- the shareholders? This means governance reform to make shareholder democracy a meaningful term. Bush has looked the other way (not to mention Clinton as well) while corporate managers have pillaged American companies and run them as personal fiefdoms. Wall Street Brokerage scandals, MCI, Dennis Koslowski are only the more visible tip of the iceberg of corporate corruption which bloomed in the 1990s as stock incentive programs were converted into devaluing strategies that upped managerial compensation and CEO salaries ballooned to ridiculous (and non-market tested) levels [here, here and here] while corporate performance flatlined.

Fair Trade Deals

The debate up to now has been drawn as protectionists versus free traders. But free trade is cast in this debate as if it were a monolithic and universally agreed upon term. The fact is that the terms of free trade are always subject to human definitition -- what we in the social sciences call a socially constructed concept. Worker protections and environmental safeguards weren't included in the last round of free trade policy considered by Congress (CAFTA), but negotiators made sure to include intellectual property protections and benefits for the pharmaceutical industry. How we define free trade is up to us as a society and Democrats can lead the way by saying we are not going to (to paraphrase William Jennings Bryan) crucify the American worker on a cross made from Chinese slave labor. The old saw that we can reform China using trade incentives has been an empty promise and authoritarian countries the world over have found that the American government really doesn't care about freedom for their people, just freedom for its corporate elites to make a killing off low wage exploitative labor. Sherrod Brown has been a leading populist voice calling for a more sensible approach to trade policy. I am not sure I agree with him on all points but paying more attention to transition costs that result from trade deals and the terms of those deals and how they affect workers at home has to be a precondition for any further advancements in this area.

The list could go on from here. I haven't even mentioned education or policies to combat poverty, Social Security, or immigration, all issues that are likely to be salient in 2006.

The point of all this is that there is an agenda for Democrats for 2006. There are lots of areas where Democrats across the conservative-liberal spectrum can find common ground. Consensus is there. All that remains is for Democrats to start repeating to the voters exactly what they plan to do in the first 100 days of a Democratic-controlled Congress. This is one of the reasons I am so enthusiastic about the idea of a mid-term Democratic Convention. Democrats actually have a deep and well-thought out bench of ideas and policy workshops. They just lack a forum for bringing it all together to craft their vision for 2006. The convention idea is this forum.


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